Henry Gross

Release/Show Me to the Stage

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Henry Gross left Sha Na Na the first chance he had, signing to ABC Records for a record that went nowhere. It was quickly followed on that path by a pair of LPs for A&M, then Gross made the jump to Lifesong Records, the label Terry Cashman and Tommy West had recently founded. Cashman and West produced Release, Gross' 1976 debut for the label that also happened to be his breakthrough, thanks to the soaring de facto Beach Boys tribute "Shannon." Much of the rest of Release exhibits some kind of debt to the Brothers Wilson, but neither Gross nor Cashman & West are content to stay still. The album opens with "Juke Box Song," a fairly kicky rocker where he sounds a shade like Glenn Frey, and eventually winds his way toward Harry Chapin territory on "Moonshine Alley," dabbling in a bit of a breezy beachside pop ("Lincoln Road," "One Last Time"), goofball blues ("Pokey"), and delicate McCartney whimsy ("Overton Square") along the way. Cashman & West gave this versatility a bit of a vivid Technicolor splendor, and Gross sold each style like the ex-showman he was, turning this into an underrated bit of West Coast studio pop. Released just a year later and produced by Gross himself, Show Me to the Stage isn't quite as good because it's a bit more limited in its scope. It's still cut from the same cloth, where the occasional crunchy rocker offers a palette cleanser amidst the luscious pop, and there are echoes of other big hits ("Come Along" seems to lift its intro from the Doobie Brothers' "Listen to the Music"), but it trades very heavily in McCartney and the Beach Boys, to the extent that "Help!" is turned into a Paul tune and "What a Sound" is an uncanny fusion of Pet Sounds and early surf-pop. If Show Me to the Stage is ultimately not quite as hooky or showy a release, it's nevertheless an exceedingly pleasant bit of '70s L.A. soft rock, and the two do make for a nifty two-fer.

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